It’s easy to be a critic after the fact, and I suppose in every person’s life there are those things printed by the local paper, or on some obscure blog out there on the internet, that can make any one of us look bad. Rumor and opinion, mixed with innuendo that is strategically sprinkled with unflattering facts, can destroy a persons reputation, or in the case of Brandon Curtiss make a person that much more determined.
Brandon Curtiss became a key figure during the Malheur Wildlife Occupation, when he and his Chapter of III% out of Idaho had to choose between joining the occupation or leaving Burns, Oregon where the event took place. Like many who supported Ammon Bundy’s message but not the takeover itself, Brandon suddenly found himself faced with the dilemma that no matter what he chose to do, it would effect the way he would be perceived by both the Patriot Community and the Government. This is Brandon’s story.
Interview with Brandon Curtiss:
DJ – How did you hear about the Hammond family, and why did their story resonate with you? Why did their story make you want to go to Oregon?
BC – I went to Burns for the first time – sometime in the last week of October 2015. BJ Soper told me the story about the Hammond’s and I wanted to go there to talk to them, you know, so I could find out for myself. I went back a few times and it’s still very emotional for me to think about, what they told me was happening to them.
DJ – And what was happening to them, Brandon?
BC – They felt abandoned, that’s exactly what they said. They were abandoned by Sheriff Ward, they were abandoned by Judge Grasty, but worst of all they felt abandoned by their own community. They had given up all hope that anyone cared about what was happening to them. Mr. Hammond was going to prison and it was so sad, and I wanted them to feel like they were cared about and not forgotten, that’s why we went, that’s why we were there.
DJ- Did you offer to stand with them, protect them, if they would decide not to go to that prison?
BC – I did, and I would have. It was such an injustice what was happening to these good people. They had already been to prison once for what the government said they did and it just wasn’t right.
DJ – Leading up to the rally did you ever think that the Hammonds’ might change their minds and decide to take a stand?
BC – Absolutely, we never gave up hope that they would change their mind. They wanted to but they were scared to death. We had hope right up until the end that they would decide not to go – we even had a legal team ready to start fighting for them. The Hammonds’ knew that.
DJ – Brandon, let’s move forward to January 2nd. There was an overwhelming show of support for the Hammond’s and by any standard you had to have been thinking the rally was a great success. Hundreds of people showed up from all across the country. When the information first started getting to you that a takeover of a Wildlife refuge was happening, what were you thinking? How did you process it?
BC – I had a serious WTF is happening moment. It was total confusion and chaos in my head; and as it all sunk in I had this overall feeling that something terrible was going to happen if these guys went through with this. That feeling never left me, not one time during the whole process, from beginning of the occupation to the end. Everything I knew about law enforcement told me there was a real probability this was going to end badly.
It wasn’t like I was given months , weeks, or even days to think about it. One minute we are having a peaceful rally and the next we are being asked to participate in something much bigger. We were thrown into a situation we knew absolutely nothing about – involving people we knew absolutely nothing about. As a leader I felt there was no way I could ask the people under my command to do that — I needed time to assess the situation. To figure it out. But I knew immediately I was not going to the Malheur Wildlife Refuge that day, in my mind that was just not going to happen.”
DJ – After the occupation started and they were all up there and you realized they were going to go through with this, what was the key factor that caused you to stay?
It was actually an easy decision to make. We had made great strides in that community before the occupation but there was still a great divide there, and we knew immediately that divide was going to grow. It came down not only to an obligation to stand by Ammon Bundy – to watch over him during a situation that was going to get bad when the FBI got there – but we owed it to the community to stay too. We loved those people, we had made good friends there. We just couldn’t walk away from that responsibility, we had no choice, we had to stay.
DJ – Why Brandon? What did you think was going to happen to this community?
BC – I was a law enforcement officer in a small town for eleven years, I had also talked to Ward and Grasty many times. I knew the first thing those two guys were going to do was call in the FBI and ask them to come in force and it was going to rip that community apart. And when they did that it set into motion a train of events that would lead to the death of LaVoy Finicum. I blame Steven Grasty for that – he orchestrated every bad thing that happened in that town during the occupation – including the murder of LaVoy Finicum.
DJ – Was it just the FBI you feared would be coming?
BC – We knew there was a strong possibility a fringe faction of the Militia might show up. A very radical faction. It wasn’t a matter of if, but when – so we convinced the FBI it was in everyones best interest to let us stay and monitor that situation. We wanted them to know we weren’t leaving. We went out to the airport where they were building up and told them that. It was no secret, we told them we would be there to help facilitate a peaceful resolution. Ammon was aware – everyone was aware – My group was in contact with the FBI and Ammon Bundy – We were very transparent – We had to be – It was a very dangerous situation. Watch Brandon in this iconic video at the airport with the FBI – Burns Oregon – January – 2016
DJ- Did you have a point of contact with the FBI?
BC- I did – they had my number – I gave it to them right there at the airport while the camera was rolling – I promised them if they stayed cool and didn’t become aggressive – we would keep the lines of communications open with the occupiers.
DJ – Brandon, I was present for some of those calls between you and the FBI – so I pretty much know how it went , but can you explain what kind of information you gave the FBI?
BC – Mostly they would call me whenever they would hear me on live stream talking about a call to action, or a meeting we were planning – They would want to know about those things – They would ask me what it was about.
DJ- Did you ever give them information about the occupation?
BC – Just what Ammon wanted them to know. If Ammon wanted me to relay a message, I would do that. If Ammon needed information about what was happening in town with the FBI, I did my best to get it for him. We patrolled the area for any build-ups and kept a general eye on what was happening. I would relay that to Ammon if I had a concern.
DJ – The FBI pushed a few times for more information didn’t they?
BC – Yes they did, but I never crossed the line, I never did – I made it clear to them we were only there as a buffer to make sure another Waco didn’t happen; that was a huge concern and we knew what they were capable of. The discovery will prove that the FBI was often times frustrated with me. I am confident that when the discovery comes out everyone will know I tried my best to do the right thing. People will see the truth.
DJ – Being in Burns, there was a time when we all felt the attitude of law enforcement change. Can you explain that to everyone?
BC – It was toward the end and I felt it immediately – Officers who were once friendly, you know the guys that stopped at a table or out in front of The Silver Spur to say hello and just chat, wouldn’t even look at us now. They became aggressive over night. They were surveilling us pretty heavy. Where they once wouldn’t even pull into a parking lot we were in, they were now waiting for us when we came and went and would follow us everywhere. They started scanning license plates too. They brought in the lighted signs they use for construction zones and we knew they were getting ready to shut down roads. The town was going into lock down — it was inevitable and very apparent at that point.
DJ – Did you make Ammon aware of what was happening?
BC – Yes. It was one of the two times I went to the refuge to personally give him a message – I didn’t want to give it to him over the phone. I told him they were getting ready to shut him down. I told him it was over and it was time to leave. I offered to escort him and the other people out of the refuge. I told him the FBI and local law enforcement were building up for something big, and that they were becoming more and more aggressive toward us. I also made him aware that FBI presence had tripled in a day. The airport and every hotel parking lot was filled with FBI vehicles. From m-raps to helicopters and drones, they were ready to lock that place down like it was Filjah. I also told him the hospital had activated it’s emergency triage unit, and begged him to let us get him and the people out of there. I told him our plan was solid. The FBI was still saying at the time that they could leave, we wanted him to take advantage of that.
DJ- What was his answer? How did he react?
BC – He said he would have to think about that, because so far law enforcement had left him alone and pretty much let him come and go as he pleased. I tried to explain to him that this was all a psychological maneuver very common in a situation like this. They let you get comfortable enough to put your guard down and that’s when it gets dangerous. I asked him if he really thought they were just going to let him stay there forever, and then said to him, “because they aren’t”. “Ammon, they are going to come after you”, I said. I expressed to him once again that the window of time was closing for a safe escape and that we could get him out of there, but again he said, he wanted more time to think about it. I left that day with a heavy heart.
DJ – There are some people who say you didn’t do enough, that you and the Idaho III% didn’t do enough to help Ammon Bundy.
BC – I tried to get him out – I tried to reason with him. Ammon called the shots on that one. If he had left with me that day, I would have done whatever it took to get him and those people to safety. We still had a small window to get out before the FBI could react. But he said no, and what am I suppose to do after that? I told him the situation he was in and he turned me down. Same with the final 4, they dug their heels in and refused to budge, there was nothing I could do.
DJ – Brandon, where were you when you got the call about the ambush, and that LaVoy had been killed?
BC – I was home with my kids. I would leave Burns on a Sunday or Monday and come back on Wednesday or Thursday. That was a pattern we had established early on. We had to take care of our kids and what was left of our business. We got the call late on the night of the 26th and we were back on the road headed toward Burns before the sun came up.
DJ – Did you think that because law enforcement had ambushed occupation leaders, what you had warned the FBI about would happen if they hurt someone, was actually becoming a possibility ?
BC – Oh yeah, it was a very strong possibility. It was extremely emotional for everyone. Just like everything that happened during the occupation the situation was fluid, meaning it changed so rapidly we hardly had time to assess what was happening. I began making calls immediately to try and gauge what was happening out there. By the time I got to Burns many of the people who were up there at the refuge had packed up and left. The FBI had set up a perimeter that nobody was getting through. Had we tried it would have been a bloodbath. Had we done that we would have done nothing but get more people killed. We had to use common sense and it wasn’t easy. We began negotiating with the FBI and the people who wanted out for safe passage. Between us and a woman named Barbara Berg, who was stationed at the campground 6 miles from the refuge, we were able to get some of them to safety. Barbara was key to getting them out. She had a vehicle and was the only person on the inside who had any influence with those left up there. She stayed calm and did a great job.
Given the fact leadership had been taken out and one man was dead, given the fact most everyone had left the refuge, and Ammon had put out a stand-down order – I knew it was over – it was time to stand down – not amp it up.
DJ – Brandon, what do you think of Ammon Bundy today?
BC – Ammon Bundy is a good man. His heart was in the right place and I honestly believe he never meant for anyone to get hurt. He had a vision of a better life for the people of Harney County and the western states in general. He felt the Hammond’s deserved to live free and in peace just like we all do. None of us could have truly predicted what would happen. I believe what Ammon did was nothing more than an act of civil disobedience and defiance in the face of tyranny. I respect him for what he did. What he did brought much awareness and he did it because he honestly cared about what’s happening in Harney County and this country as a whole. How can we as a people judge him for that? He paid the ultimate price and he did it because he cared enough to stand for what he believed in. If we could all muster up that kind of courage we could change things. I can’t honestly walk away from this and not feel guilty that I maybe didn’t do enough, but I did the best I could at the time. We have all been changed by it – it has changed me forever. Ammon accomplished that much. He is a true American Patriot – Nobody will ever be able to take that from him – He has earned it.
DJ – So how are you now Brandon, how is life after Malheur?
BC – It’s hard sometimes. I have many sleepless nights. I think anyone who lived through what we did left that place with some form of PTSD. It wasnt easy – it just wasn’t alright. I didn’t get arrested but I am losing many things both personally and financially. I put everything I had into this movement and the government is seeing to it that I pay for my part in it, they are getting their pound of flesh from me. They have seen to it my name was smeared all over the local paper. I am financially bankrupt. I lost what was left of my business. I can’t even pass a security check at the airport to meet my daughter at the gate when she flies home from seeing her mother.
But still I’m proud of what we did, the Idaho III%. We did it for the right reasons. Because of ours and Ammon’s efforts the people of Burns who never had one before have made great strides in finding their voice and we hear them loud and clear.
We exposed a lot of corruption in Burns and Harney County. We were changing the way people looked at their government there. Between Us, Pete Santilli, and the work Ammon Bundy did, to bring it all to light, I know that place will be changed forever. The people who found their voice will be changed forever. The government will not find it so easy to run all over them anymore. We gave them a black eye and they didn’t like it. They never do. I hear lots of good things coming out of that community, but still there is a lot of hard work that needs to be done. It is now up to them to carry it forward, but we are just a phone call away if they need us. I wouldn’t hesitate, none of us would.
As hard as it is to sleep at night, I put my head on my pillow knowing I did the right thing. We all did. We all stood on the principle of truth, and when you do that – everything falls into place in the end. We stayed on our true north, and I don’t regret a single moment of it.
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